By Alec Clayton
Opening a new theatrical season after almost two years of being closed, Harlequin Productions is trying something it’s never before attempted: three plays in repertory, with overlapping schedules and each play to open one week apart and run concurrently for five weeks each.
Marketing and communications director — and frequent Harlequin actor — Helen Harvester said, “Aaron Lamb, who has previous experience with rotating repertories as an actor, wanted to announce Harlequin’s return in a big way. Rather than staging one enormous production, which would have incurred great risk due to ongoing health regulations, he chose this approach.”
Soon after Lamb joined the production company, he focused on shifting the typical season lineup — a musical revue for the Christmas season (the long-running Stardust series), a few challenging contemporary plays, Shakespeare, and another musical revue in the summer. This year’s schedule breaks routine in a big way, starting with Tenderly, a Rosemary Clooney tribute, followed by Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill and the contemporary drama Until the Flood, playing in repertory. The repertory shows will be followed by A Christmas Carol, Murder for Two, Endgame, Sovereignty, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, This Flat Earth and Fun Home.
Harvester said Lamb selected the repertory shows in the hope that patrons would view all three. “Seen together, Tenderly and Lady Day not only showcase two beloved, extraordinarily talented women, but put into stark relief the rather breathtaking differences in their contemporaneous careers due to racial prejudice,” said Harvester. “Until the Flood pushes this examination further, asking audiences to take a hard look at the racial issues that have come at last to the forefront of American culture.”
Tenderly, The Rosemary Clooney Musical will be directed by Corey McDaniel, and will star Meg McLynn as Rosemary Clooney. It will feature Harlequin veteran Bruce Haasl as the Doctor. (Haasl also played in The 1940s Radio Hour. First Date and many of the Stardust shows.)
Tenderly follows Clooney’s life from her simple Maysville, Kentucky, childhood to her rise to Hollywood stardom in such films as White Christmas and Radioland Murders, and features many of her signature songs, including “Hey There,” “Sisters,” “Botcha-a-Me,” “Come On-a My House,” and many other favorites.
Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, directed by Jimmy Shields, stars Alexandria J. Henderson as legendary blues singer Billie Holiday. It is centered on a single night and a single performance in a seedy bar in Philadelphia. The time is 1959. It is one of Holiday’s last performances, four months before her death. The music tells her story and paints a soulful picture of a time in America’s past. Among the songs Henderson as Holiday sings are “Strange Fruit,” “God Bless the Child,” “When a Woman Loves a Man,” and “Ain’t Nobody’s Business if I Do.”
Until the Flood, written by Pulitzer Prize finalist and celebrated performer and playwright Dael Orlandersmith and directed by Faith Bennett Russell, explores the social uprising in Ferguson, Missouri, following the shooting of teenager Michael Brown. Featured performers are Vincent Orduña in his Harlequin debut and returning Harlequin actors Kristen Natalia (Vanya & Sonia & Masha & Spike), Nikki Visel (Clybourne Park), and Gerald B. Browning (Love and Information and The 1940s Radio Hour).
In addition to strong stories and great music, patrons should pay particular attention to the set designed by resident scenic designer Jeannie Beirne, which will serve for three separate plays in three changeable locations. It is a modular set on a wood floor, with panels and furniture pieces to shift for each production. Subtly depicting a river and inspired by Until the Flood, the floor is the through-line for all productions.
Masking and proof of vaccination are required to visit the theater. Those who cannot be vaccinated must show proof of a negative COVID test taken within 72 hours of the performance. For more information on safety protocols, visit Harlequin’s website.
Photo credits: Shanna Paxton Photography, courtesy Harlequin Productions.
Three plays in repertory at Harlequin Productions
Tenderly, Oct 22 – Nov 20;
Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, Oct. 29 – Nov 27;
Until the Flood, Nov. 5 – Dec 4
State Theater, 202 Fourth Ave. E, Olympia